Senate Ag Committee Releases Draft of Farm Bill

The Senate Agriculture Committee has released its official committee print of the 2013 Farm Bill. According to Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow – the bipartisan 2013 Farm Bill represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades. She notes the era of direct payments comes to an end with the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act – with the bill creating risk management tools that support farmers when they are negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control. According to Stabenow – by ending unnecessary subsidies, streamlining and consolidating programs and cracking down on abuse the bill will yield a total of 23-billion dollars in cuts to agriculture programs – including cuts made due to the sequester. She notes that is more than double the amount recommended by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission and the Gang of Six. Stabenow says the Senate’s 2013 Farm Bill strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create jobs. With the current farm bill set to expire September 30th – Stabenow says Congress must pass legislation this year to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery. She says 16-million jobs hang in the balance. The Committee is set to markup the measure next Tuesday.

Here are some of the highlights outlined in Chairwoman Stabenow’s summary of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013:
Reform – The 2013 Senate Farm Bill reforms farm programs to save taxpayer dollars, while providing farmers with a responsible risk management system that only helps farmers when they experience substantial losses due to events beyond their control.

  • Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy
  • Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person
  • Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the “management loophole,” through which people who were not actually farming—in many cases not even setting foot on the farm—were designated as farm “managers” so they could receive farm payments
  • Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather
  • Includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters
  • Reforming farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration)

Consolidating and Streamlining Programs – The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.

  • The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs—while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife
  • Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands
  • These reforms save money while still increasing resources for top priorities
  • Because we are truly doing more with less, changes to conservation policies are supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states

Improving Program Accountability – The Senate Farm Bill increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:

  • Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance
  • Preventing states from providing $1 per year in home heating assistance to individuals who do not have a heating bill for the sole purpose of providing extra benefits above what they would normally receive
  • Ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income
  • Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking
  • Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits
  • The above savings reduce the deficit while continuing support for food banks, seniors’ food programs and healthy school lunch initiatives

The draft farm bill released by the Senate Ag Committee is more than 11-hundred pages in length. Some aspects not highlighted by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow include the establishment of a new Adverse Market Payments program – which would be based on reference prices. Like last year’s bill – the measure establishes the Agricultural Risk Coverage program. The bill also reauthorizes the sugar program, includes the dairy program favored by milk producers, extends the Food for Peace Act and reduces the size of the Conservation Reserve Program. The recent agreement between farm and conservation groups to create a tie between crop insurance eligibility and conservation compliance with no income tests for premium subsidies is not included in the draft. Instead – it includes the conservation compliance language proposed by Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss last year – which was adopted by the full Senate. Also included is the gross income means test introduced by Dick Durbin of Illinois and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Source: National Association of Farm Broadcasters